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Friday, 30 November 2012

Silicone sealant, what's to know?

Many of us do not think about the variety of sealants that are on the market. We tend to rely on builders and others to get the right one for the job. However there is a wide variety of options.

I was in the Builders Merchants close to me the other day and asked for a 'good' silicone sealant. This apparently required a inquisitive look from the person serving me. What, you want a good one? Are you sure? The basic one is £2 and the better one £6. This indicates that all the builders do not wish to part with the extra cash for the sake of having a better product. Bear in mind that the vast majority of the professionals will be 'doing you a favour' by saving you money. However, they might not actually be saving you money in the long run!

So, in support of this post I had a quick look on the internet and found a great wiki post at DIYFAQ that explains the difference between the different types and their attributes.

There are a few excellent suggestions / facts there, notable of which are:
  • Silicone is flexible, but not very good at tensile pressures. Most silicone will move 10% - so 1mm for every 10mm of silicone bead, but some claim to move up to 20%. This may well be better around doors and windows where movement is high. It also means that when sealing around a bath it is better to fill the bath first and then seal it so that the silicone is under compression rather than tension.
  • Sell by dates are very important with silicone and so be aware of this when using.
  • You can get 'Neutral Cure' silicones that do not smell of acetic acid. These tend to be the better ones.
  • The acetic acid in the silicone encourages mould growth and so use of alternatives is recommended for around showers etc.
So don't just think of silicone as all the same, there are some very important differences that will affect how suitable each type is and how long it will do the job for. Long term solutions are really important for key areas like join between walls and windows. Get it wrong and water will get into the walls etc. So have a chat to your builder and maybe educate him / her on this and ensure that you get the right silicone for the job. Good luck.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Give the walls a tap - They might be dry lined

Dry lining is one of those building practices that is commonly known, but little understood.

To know if your home has been dry lined just requires a little tap of the knuckles against the wall. If it rings hollow then the wall has been lined. If it sounds solid and your knuckles hurt then it is still a solid masonry wall!

Knowing this is really important.

Why? Well walls are normally dry lined for a reason. Not many people think - "I want to go through some extra expense and disruption at home just for the heck of it". The main reason why walls are dry-lined is because they are damp. Hence the term dry lining. This is one job that does what is says. It creates a dry lining for your home. It does not even attempt to solve the problem, just covers it over so that you cannot see it. For some, landlords and people trying to get a good price for a damp house, this is a great system. Relatively cheap, easy and, due to general ignorance, no real complaints from tenants or major price reduction demands from new owners. So all is well?

Not really. Our homes can really suffer from dry lining:
  • Walls that were dry lined due to damp, remain damp. Damp walls transmit heat better, thus making your home more costly to run;
  • Mould grows in the cool moist environment behind the lining and can spread their spores through gaps in the lining;
  • Mice and rats can find ready made homes behind the lining and spend their time chewing through wires etc;
  • Any structural problems remain hidden behind the mask of the plasterboard lining;
  • Joists that are embedded in the walls can rot quicker in the damp environment;
  • Hanging heavy objects on plasterboard is not as secure as fixing into solid masonry;
  • Lots of dry-lining is done with dot and dab fixing. This can fail in a fire and be even more dangerous for you, your family and the fire service;
  • Most dry lining is also not sealed properly and hence warm moist air can get behind it, condense on the cooler walls and create more damp problems for the house;
  • .......
The ideal solution is that you fix the problem that the house has properly. This might save you a lot of money both in the short and long term. The damp might just be coming from a broken gutter, or cracked render, or an internal leak. So find out the cause of any problem before embarking on any dry lining. If you house is already dry lined it is worth spending a bit more time finding out why and trying to find any root cause. Even though the problem is hidden, it probably has not gone away.

So be careful and aware of dry lining and always find out what the initial problem was and resolve it, if at all possible.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Wood treatment in wet conditions

I thought that it was worth sharing a customers unfortunate situation with regards to treating wooden decking.

Having laid a beautiful deck the whole area needed treating and a really good oil from Osmo was choosen. All well and good. However, with the 'summer' that we had, the deck was sodden, so even though the day choosen to treat was a dry one the wood had not recovered from the deluges it had experienced for weeks prior to this.

The moisture level in the wood was so high that the oils could not penetrate as they would normally. This meant that the oil acted more like a paint than a wood oil. It therefore took longer to dry and also formed a glossy coat on the surface rather than the matt / silk finish that was desired. Not a happy customer and also left with a situation that was difficult to rectify without complete removal.

The people fitting the deck were professionals, but the pressure of time etc meant that they just got on with the job rather than thinking about moisture levels in the wood. Ideally the moisture content should be 20% or less. So if in doubt, check the wood with a moisture meter first to ensure that the treatment used will work properly.

We would also recommend treating the decking before it is laid down. This will allow you to treat the underneath and this helps balance out breathability of the timber. This makes it more stable in the long run. Also we would recommend that you treat any ends / cuts so that you protect these most sensitive of areas of deck. This might mean being around when it is being installed and  / or giving clear instructions to the installers so that it does actually get done.

At the Eco Home Centre we would recommend using Osmo 4005 pre-treatments for any end grains (assuming the timber has already been tanalised - if it has not then treat all of the wood with this pre-treatment). Then an Osmo Wood Oil for a UV stable finish. You might wish to finish off with the clear Osmo Anti-slip top coat (430). However, remember that you need to ensure a low moisture content in the wood before starting any treatment. Good luck.

Friday, 16 November 2012

DIY Gift Idea

Many of us are DIY'ers. Some are keen, some less so. For some people the idea of a hammer drill as a gift can be inticing: as it may just encourage the loved one to get out of the chair and put the shelves up that have been in the packaging for the past 8 months. This tactic will no doubt have some successes, but others will be doomed to failure, especially if the shelves end up wonky. The cost and effort of getting the drill suddenly seem like a bit of a waste of resources. Let alone the arguments, dust, bleeding knuckles etc.

So is there a more subtle way of getting some jobs done around the house where the products bought are less likely to go to waste? Well, I have been thinking about this and I reckon that you cannot go far wrong with some good quality paint brushes.

Most people are prepared to have a go at painting. The idea of paying for a decorator for smaller painting jobs (say one room) does not sit well with many people. An 'I can do that' mentality comes to the fore and before you know it the paint brushes are being sought in the shed / garage etc. This search, though, often just turns up some old, tired and matted brushes in a forgotten drawer*. What then? Well it generally means a trip to the local DIY store for some of their cheapest brushes and rollers. This in turn leads to the frustration of hairs in the paint work, poor quality finishes and a lack of willingness to do any more painting for at least another year.

So how about this for an idea for the reluctant DIY'er in your life.
A set of quality paint brushes that are great to use, give an excellent finish, look marvellous and also have the bonus of being very eco-friendly. Not only that, they also contribute some of the price to rainforest protection projects. This is why we stock the brilliant Eco Ezee range of brushes.

Sceptical? Well, as a little true story to back this up I had a complaint once about our excellent Auro paint. Apparently it would not go on properly. Fearing the worse I went to see the job and found the builder using his tried and trusted paint brush to apply it. To be generous, lets say that it was 'in a poor state'. I had anticipated this as a problem and presented him with one of the Eco Ezee brushes and told him to try again. A little while later I had a text stating 'I am in love with a brush'!! With the right tools, anything is possible!

If you have a keen DIY'er in your life (lucky you) then they always appreciate good quality goods that will help them make an expert job of the whole project. These brushes are comparible to the professional ranges, but are cheaper (and have all the benefits listed above to boot!) What's not to like?

*Just so that you know we also have a great Brush Restore product from Eco Solutions that will return all those old brushes in the forgotten drawer back to a usable state. You can then use these cheap old brushes for any less important painting tasks like treating fence panels etc.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Ventilation solutions for homes

Positive ventilation system diagramatic
Many of our houses are getting sealed up all in the name of energy efficiency. Draughts around doors are being sealed, windows are being replaced (often without trickle vents), chimneys are being blocked up, lofts insulated, vented suspended floors replaced by solid concrete slabs. We have also brought more humidity into our homes by installing indoor toilets and bathrooms (this could be for the better though!)

All this extra moisture needs to go somewhere. In a fully breathable structure the walls, floors and roof do all of this for us, but many of our homes now have cement renders, conventional painted walls, non breathable insulations etc. The moisture therefore is trapped in the home and on its internal surfaces. This if course can lead to condensation issues and the associated troubles of damp and mould.

So this gives us two choices - reinstate breathable structures, or manage the humidity in another way. Given that the former can require lots of work and disruption I thought that it was worth looking at the alternatives.

One solution to reduce damp on internal surfaces is to have greater ventilation. Here's the rub. How to get warm air into your home to provide you with greater drying capacity without introducing a stream of cold air. Afterall we are trying to reduce carbon emissions etc by making our homes more airtight and by reducing consumption of energy.

There are three main solutions, but each has issues.

Positive pressure - this is the easiest solution. Basically the concept is to pump fresh air from the attic space into the rest of the house. Air in the attic is generally a couple of degrees warmer than outside ambient temperature, however it still represents a source of cold air. Other issues are that because you are using one point of entry for the fresh air its effectiveness is reduced when doors are closed and also where most of the damp problems are downstairs (unless you provide ducts to a lower level for the main air input). Ceilings also need to be airtight so that the pressurised air does not just go straight back into the attic! So care needs to be taken when thinking about how you live and whether you are prepared to accept cooler air as a means of getting fresh air.

Whole House Heat Recovery Ventilation - this is probably the most complicated (but probably the best solution). Here you have a heat recovery system (again normally in the loft space) that takes 'stale' and moist air from some rooms (kitchen, bathroom, living room) and uses it to pre-heat the incoming air from outside. Many of these are around 90-95% efficient at transferring the heat. The fresh air is now pre-heated and pumped to the rooms where it is required. This really does get to the root of the ventilation problem, however it requires ducting to be installed through the house. This is fairly instrusive and disrupting, but it might be the solution that you desire.
Whole house system

Solar air ventilation - this is a compromise between the two solutions. What happens here is effectively a positive pressure system with pre-heating and control elements added to it. Air is preheated using roof based solar collectors (just like the solar thermal systems that you see around) but rather than water, they heat air. The pre-warmed air is then pumped into the house as per positive pressure (so the same issues still remain), but this time the system is designed to give you control over how much air is delivered and at what temperature. The fan units have inputs from three sources normally (the solar collectors, the loft and the eaves). This means that they can cool the house as well as warming it. This system needs you to have an accessible roof that is preferably facing south. This solution is more expensive than the simple positive pressure system, but cheaper than a whole house system.

Nuaire sunwarm system showing solar air panels, fan and vent input
Hope that this give you an overview of what is available, in an add-on technological sense, for getting ventilation into sealed older homes that minimises carbon emissions and running costs.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Is painting a real headache?

"Thanks for painting my bedroom. I love the colour, but I think I need to sleep in your bed tonight!"
Extreme? Not for some.

Painting (even the ones touted as being eco-friendly because they are water based) can cause a serious reaction in some people. The chemicals given off by the paint drying and curing can give some people really bad headaches, rashes, sneezes and breathing problems. We often hear of people not being able to use a room once it has been decorated. The painter (and most of us have decorated at some stage of our lives) will bear the brunt of it all, but the family will also end up with the fumes for weeks to come. All the nasty stuff has to be given off within a month of being painted, but this is a long time in your own home. So the effects of painting can be long lasting. It is not uncommon to hear that people have been forced to move out for a week or two before they could bear to return to their home.

Paints with higher levels of solvents in (these tend to be glosses, satins and wood treatments) have an even greater effect on sufferers as the level of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in these paints are greater than water based ones.

The large companies are trying to get below the VOC figures that the EU is imposing, but they have their hands tied by their processes that are fundamentally based on the petro-chemical industry. However, despair not. There are a number of eco paint companies that have solved the problem many decades ago, just by using natural ingredients.

Earthborn make VOC free products in the form of their claypaint, their ecoPro emulsion and their ProAqua Eggshell and Varnish. There is virtually no smell at all from these paints and what you can smell is perfectly harmless. You can literally paint the walls of your bedroom during the day and sleep there that night with no ill effects, even if you are chemically sensitive.

Auro have a wide range of water based and oil based paints and finishes. However their paints are made using oils from plants like linseed and oranges. They therefore have VOCs but they are all natural. So if you can tolerate peeling an orange then you can probably use Auro paint with no ill effects. Auro products do smell because of the natural oils, but they have a refreshing citrus aroma. The type of VOC is therefore very important to appreciate. Man-made ones tend to be much more problematic than natural ones (after all we have evolved with nature all around us and so we are used to its chemicals).

Why not use our Eco Paint Chooser to find out which paint is most suited to your particular needs. Our philosophy is to find the right paint for the job even if this means finding one that will not leave you with a splitting headache or a nasty rash.